Audio-technica ATH-ANC300TW True Wireless Earphones Review
All the big players are bringing their best plate to the True Wireless table. Can this new offering dine with the grown-ups?
True Wireless In-ear Monitors
AUD $349 RRP
Only a few years ago, the true wireless headphone world was dominated by names like Apple and Sennheiser. Audio-technica wasn't really in the picture back then, and it didn't feel like this Japanese giant had plans to release any real competition to the big players. Fast forward to today though, and the company is now not only facing off its competitors' offerings but also fast becoming class-of-the-field…
These days, Apple and Sennheiser are smashing the market with the AirPods Pro (AUD $399) and Momentum True Wireless 2 (AUD $499) respectively, but Audio-technica is back – proving that revenge is a dish best served cold, with its new flagship ATH-ANC300TW (AUD $349). The company has always found little ways to be different, and this release is no exception. Unlike the rest of the products in this price category, there isn't a touch panel in sight on these IEMs. Instead, you'll find one button on each which is responsible for call, volume and track skipping duties. The vertical-standing case has a two-tone black vibe, with a splash of both matte and satin textures.
Three LEDs on the front indicate the current battery status, and small magnets inside keep the ATH-ANC300TW snugly in place while they are charging. Speaking of which, let's get a round of applause happening for Audio-technica for finally catching up and using a USB-C charging connector on this release. The manufacturer was so excited about this that it advertised it as a critical feature on the box, no less!
The buds themselves have a slightly boxier and more plastic feel than their Sennheiser and Apple counterparts. Yet despite this, they still manage to look and feel sleek and small in hand. They are all roughly the same size, so if anything you could probably say I'm just nitpicking. With four different sized pairs of olive-style silicone ear tips – as well as some medium comply tips – getting a quick fit with a tight seal wasn't an issue. At first, it feels a little odd that the main body of the bud points upwards instead of outwards, but this was soon forgiven and forgotten.
Combining this with a weight of only 7 grams per side and an IPX2 weather-resistance rating, means that these are excellent for workouts – including lengthy running sessions or even boxing bag training. All of which helps to make the ATH-ANC300TW feel a proper lifestyle product, happy to take on the rigours of the road – rather than just an audiophile-grade product to wear around the house.
The inbuilt lithium-ion battery packs 4.5 hours of listening per charge, and the charging case will grant you another 13.5 hours of juice. This is roughly on par with the AirPods Pro, and a few hours short of Sennheiser's Momentum True Wireless 2. Thankfully a full charge to the IEMs only takes around an hour.
Each of the two 5.8mm dynamic drivers features the same DLC (Diamond-like Carbon) technology seen elsewhere in several high-end Audio-technica products. These drivers talk to the source via AAC, SBC and aptX codecs, including Qualcomm's new TrueWireless Stereo Plus. This effectively loses the traditional 'master and slave' configuration that most true wireless products employ, allowing for the source device to connect to both units independently.
This means ultra-low latency, and the ability to listen to either ear while the other one lives in its case. It's a neat trick that AirPods struggle to master, and at which current Sennheiser models conspicuously fail. Each earpiece also sports proprietary QuietPoint technology to handle ANC duties, also used by the venerable Audio-Technica ATH-ANC900BT, Clear Voice Capture to handle phone calls.
Pairing with the ATH-ANC300TW is quick and easy. That in itself isn't headline news, but the ongoing connection quality deserves a special mention here. Ripping the IEMs out of their case and plugging them into your ears resumes the connection instantly, and the buds never seem to become confused like my AirPods Pro sometimes are.
For me, it's always a blessing when headphones pack buttons instead of touch panels. In this case, this blessing is accentuated by the ability to change how these buttons work with the headphone. There are two different programmable key assign functions - similar to choosing a control style when playing a video game. Noise-cancelling and pass-through modes both have three settings to choose from, and thankfully you can also choose to switch them both off completely. The transitions between these selections are buttery smooth, with a gentle fade in/out between each setting.
The accompanying app is mostly intuitive and easy to use. It continues Audio-technica's recent tradition of feeding useful information to the listener that other competing apps do not, such as listing the currently used codec. The app even has a media player built-in so that you can use it just like a DAP. It will talk to other apps like Spotify with ease. It, unfortunately, doesn't have any customisable EQ.
Rather annoyingly, however, the app asks for my location, even when I don't have it open. And when I deny it access to my location, it will punish me with a persistent notification that I can't swipe away. So this app went quickly into my “mute all notifications” pile. Sorry, Audio-technica, you know I love you – but this relationship is getting too serious, too soon!
Using my Galaxy Note 10+ as my aptX source, I put the ATH-ANC300TW to work. With a linear sounding, smooth feeling bottom end, bass depth and reach are almost on par with Apple's AirPods Pro – this Audio-technica IEM offers just a whisker more impact. This is most noticeable on tracks such as Metal Lords by Eto. The bassline plays a subtle yet essential part of this hip-hop track, and those DLC drivers serve it up with a flat, controlled and polished response. It's not quite as punchy as you'll find on the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, yet is still enough to satisfy a meathead like me.
This feeling of precise control extends to the midrange, where a neutral signature started reminded me of the ruler-flat response of the monitoring legend ATH-M50x's midband. A natural-sounding soundstage marries nicely with this neutral vocal range, to produce an effortless, fatigue-free listening midrange.
Despite having a less expansive soundstage than Sennheiser's Momentum True Wireless 2, instrumental separation is still easy to pick out when listening to tracks such as In The Moment by Brookes Brothers. The string instrument samples are all easily identifiable for example and don't get muddled up or congested even during busier sections of the piece. The fast-paced drum and bass sections showcase a punchy, fast transient response with plenty of energy pushing through.
While there's plenty of clarity and bite up top, it generally won't cause much wincing – even during top-end happy tracks such as CCMYK4 by Henrik Schwarz. The violins kick off early in this piece, and if you have the volume up too high, you'll find a little sizzle. The ATH-ANC300TW presents top end with a bit more aggression than the AirPods Pro, and at the same time squeezes out a little more detail in the same step.
Speaking of AirPods, let's talk about noise cancelling. There's no other way to say this – these IEMs are excellent in this respect. Indeed it's difficult to pick a clear favourite between the ATH-ANC300TW and the AirPods Pro with both on the maximum setting, and that's saying a lot. The deal-breaker here is that the AirPods have a single on/off binary setting for either ANC or pass-through modes, whereas the Audio-technica has three settings for each. My hat goes off the company for its excellent implementation here.
If you'll indulge my fawning for a little longer, the ATH-ANC300TW's pass-through setting is also superb – it's one of the best and most natural iterations of this feature that I've used. You can activate “quick hear through” with a single press of a button, and pressing it again will resume your regular ANC setting. Seriously handy when you're running and require temporary full attention to your surroundings!
The sound offered up by this brand new true wireless release is a well-balanced dish, which happily satisfy a range of palettes. If you're looking for more bass, perhaps look towards the Sennheiser flagship offerings, but if neutrality is your game, then here's your next true-wireless option. Featuring a natural, smooth sound and plenty of features, with excellent noise-cancelling abilities and characteristics, Audio-technica's new ATH-ANC300TW comes highly recommended.
For more information, visit Audio-technica.
Constantly keeping himself busy, Matthew is a production manager, Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt, Head-Fi fanatic, coffee enthusiast and all-round cool Dad.